Sabtu, 08 Juni 2013

Nearly Sunk Bruins Snap Into a Juggernaut

Superstition says that players should only pose with the trophy and not touch it for the only one that merits holding and hoisting is the Stanley Cup. The Bruins will get that opportunity starting this week.

Six weeks ago the prospect of Boston s winning the conference title or even still playing in June seemed close to preposterous. The Bruins stumbled their way into the playoffs winning two of their last eight games in a lockout compressed schedule made tougher by two postponements because of the Boston Marathon bombings and a third to a snowstorm.

They fell from the No. 2 spot in the conference to No. 4 with a season ending home loss to Ottawa. They proceeded to blow a 3 1 lead in the first round to Toronto and found themselves trailing 4 1 midway through the third period of Game 7.

Then something happened the Bruins cannot explain it and they have never been the same. Since Game 6 of the Toronto series the Bruins have won 9 of 10 games and the only loss came in overtime. They have been a defensive juggernaut with opportunistic scoring and solid goaltending.

The Bruins rallied for three goals to tie the Maple Leafs two of them coming with the goalie pulled in the final two minutes. The winner came in overtime.

It certainly catapulted us into our level of our play and performance General Manager Peter Chiarelli said Saturday. You could see the team pick itself up. It wasn t really a switch. I think it was more of a realization to these guys like Hey we had better get this thing done. We waited a little long. But it certainly was a boost to their play the rest of the way without question.

Boston dispatched the Rangers in five games and improbably swept the vaunted Penguins in the conference finals a series in which Pittsburgh with the N.H.L. s most productive offense never held a lead and managed only two goals.

If we look back at that Game 7 we wouldn t be here anymore said Bruins center David Krejci who leads all playoff scorers. We would be done. The Rangers would have beat us. We ve done a pretty good job to stay in the moment. We took it game by game. Right now we re talking about the final.

The dismantling of the high flying Penguins included holding their top three playoff scorers Evgeni Malkin Kris Letang and Sidney Crosby without a point in the four games. Letang still leads the N.H.L. in playoff assists with 13. Malkin is still tied with Krejci at No. 2 with 12. Jarome Iginla who spurned the Bruins for the Penguins at the trade deadline also had no points.

In a fitting denouement an inoffensive 35 foot wrist shot by Iginla only his fourth shot of the series proved to be the Penguins final one. Goalie Tuukka Rask who had been ordinary in much of the first two rounds easily caught it to conclude an extraordinary series two goals allowed and a .985 save percentage in the series.

Right now he s in a zone that you hope he can hold on to Bruins Coach Claude Julien said of Rask. Without that kind of goaltending you don t get a chance at winning a Cup.

The Bruins know. In 2011 Tim Thomas was nearly unbeatable in the Stanley Cup finals against Vancouver allowing eight goals in seven games. But he really did not turn into a fortress that postseason until Game 7 of the conference finals when he shut out Tampa Bay. In the previous six games of that series Thomas allowed 19 goals. Rask has allowed 30 goals in 16 games three in the last five.

The turnaround by Rask epitomizes the Bruins about face. Throughout the Toronto series and even early in the Rangers series Julien kept referring to his team as a Jekyll and Hyde club never sure which one would show up. Injuries contributed to the problem as three regulars on defense were injured in the Toronto series.

But as the saying goes what doesn t kill you makes you stronger. The Bruins hardly looked like Stanley Cup contenders heading into the playoffs and were a corpse in waiting in Game 7 against Toronto. Now they re playing for a chance to win a second Stanley Cup in three seasons.

The peaks and valleys of a season sometimes pay off a lot more than people give credit for because you certainly grow from those tough times you learn from those things it makes you a better team down the road Julien said.

Julien continued I thought this year had its ups and downs it was a tough schedule. But right now we re probably playing some of our best hockey of the season.

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